I was delighted to meet and spend some time with poet Alicia Suskin Ostriker in August 2017, when Florence Writers hosted a reading with Alicia and Florentine poet Elisa Biagini. This event was part of Voci Lontane, Voci Sorelle, a poetry festival here in the city.
Author of numerous poetry collections as well as a critical writer, Alicia Ostriker received the William Carlos Williams Award for The Imaginary Lover (1986), the Paterson Award and the San Francisco State Poetry Center Award for The Crack in Everything (1996), the Jewish National Book Award for The Book of Seventy (2009), and she was twice a finalist for the National Book Award. Her most recent collection is Waiting for the Light (2017). She has received fellowships and awards from, among others, the NEA, the Guggenheim and Rockefeller foundations, and the Poetry Society of America. Ostriker is professor emerita of English at Rutgers University.
“When I give poetry readings, my hope is to make people in my audience laugh and cry … As an American poet I see myself in the line of Whitman, Williams, and Ginsberg, those great enablers of the inclusive democratic impulse, the corollary of which is formal openness.” (Poetry Foundation)
What is the biggest personal obstacle you must overcome in order to write?
Right now, the biggest personal obstacle is the absence of something significant to say. See the poems in the next issue of The Sigh Press (Issue 16).
With the world the way it is and the innumerable distractions in daily life, how do you find the time and dedication to pursue something as ephemeral as an idea?
When I do have an idea, I am obsessed with it, and then it is easy to push other things aside, and attempt to put that idea into the right words, in the right order.
“The everyday” is clearly a protagonist (or catalyst) in your work. Is this a way into writing for you? Can you tell us a little bit about the process that takes you from the mundane towards the transcendent?
Transcendence doesn’t interest me. It is immanence that I seek—the deep spirit within ourselves, and within the material world. Though the spirit perhaps “cometh from afar,” as Wordsworth says, I find it within. “Not I, not I, but the wind that blows through me,” as Lawrence says. Or to descend into the self as into a well.
Read the full interview on The Sigh Press.